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Under Construction I am not very organized or methodical in my reading. Web pages seem like a good way to keep track of the various threads I'm pursuing so I can find my way back to the main one--I'm trying to understand the context in which Montessori worked, so I can better understand what she wrote and where she got her ideas. To keep track of my reading, I write down quotes I find interesting and add thoughts in brackets as they occur to me. My goal is to one day have more notes than quotes on these pages, and maybe even develop something coherent and interesting. Until then, the "under construction" icon will remain as a warning for those who might mistakenly think there's something readable on these pages.

Positivism and Post-Positivism

In this section, my basic question is "What kind of positivist was Montessori?" I want to look at kinds of positivism, focusing on positivists and anti-positivists that she mentioned in her book. Exceptions include Spencer. Spencer is generally categorized as a positivists, but didn't consider himself one. Montessori doesn't mention him anywhere in his work, but he was a hugely influential thinker in his time. Sergi translated "several" of Spencer's works into Italian (The Oxford Handbook, p. 313). Spencer's popularity in his day can be seen, for example by using google engrams to compare Spencer with Darwin, and similarities between Spencer's ideas on pedagogy and some of Montessori's are striking. I also want to include other Italians of her day who applied positivism to pedagogics.

According to the Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Abbagnano),

There are two fundamental kinds of positivism: social positivism, with a professedly practicopolitical character, and evolutionary positivism, with a professedly theoretical character. Both share the general idea of progress, but whereas social positivism deduces progress from a consideration of society and history, evolutionary positivism deduces it from the fields of physics and biology. Comte and John Stuart Mill are the principal representatives of social positivism, and Herbert Spencer of evolutionary positivism. A materialistic or spiritualistic metaphysics is often associated with evolutionary positivism. A third, critical type of positivism, also known as empiriocriticism, should be distinguished from both social and evolutionary positivism. Contemporary forms of positivism -logical positivism and neopositivism- are directly connected with critical positivism.

"[In the early 1890s], the most famous philosopher followed in Italy was Spencer... and with him many other positivists and evolutionists, both foreigners and fellow citizens." (Croce, Primi saggi, pp. 8-9).

Lombroso's evolutionary concept was not Darwinian as such, but rather a combination of biological and anthropological models taken from a number of authors such as Moleschott, BŘchner, Morel, Haekel, Broca, and Spencer.

I'll look at these folks:

  • Comte
  • Spencer
  • Herbart
  • Cesare Lombroso (1836-1909, founder of the Italian School of Positivist Criminology)
  • Achille de Giovanni (1838-1916)
  • Giuseppe Sergi (1831-1936)
  • The leader of the school of modern pedagogic positivism is Robert Ardig˛ (Casteldidone, 1828, Mantua, 1920). In addition to may philosophical works he wrote The Science of Education, 1893. Among those who follow the lines laid down by him are: Giovanni Marchesini (1868, still living), author of the Positive Doctrine of Ideality, Systematic Course of Pedagogics, Moral Education; Giuseppe Tarozzi (1866, still living), Ludovico Limentani and others.

And maybe some subset of the following (if they influence Montessori or help clarify her positivist views/approach)

  • Edoardo Fusco (Trani, 1824, Naples, 1872)
  • Pietro Sciliani (Galatina, 1835, Florence, 1885), author of... Science in Education According to the Principles of Modern Sociology
  • Andrea Angiulli (Castellana, 1837, Naples, 1890), author of Philosophy and the School, Pedagogics, the State and the Family, Pedagogics and Positive Philosophy
  • Aristide Gabelli (Belluno, 1830, Padua, 1891), compiler of the valuable Instructions... [and] author of Man and the Moral Sciences and Education in Italy
  • Nicola Fornelli (Bitonto, 1843, Naples, 1915), author of Public Teaching of To-day, in which he shows that teaching is the right and function of the State and must be secular but not anti-religious; Pedagogics and Classical Teaching, affirming that classical studies constitute the basis of national education; Adaptation in Education, Studies from Herbart
  • F. S. De Dominicis (Buonalbergo, 1845, ?), author of the Comparative Science of Education
  • G. A. Colozza (Frosolone, 1857,still living), author of The Place of the Play in Psychology and Pedagogy, Inhibition, Imagination in Science; Meditation, Mathematics in Educational Work, Studies on Rousseau and Education and the Sentiment of Honour, in which he develops some principles of Locke and modern English pedagogy.
  • Cesare Collucci, Sante Desanctis, G. C. Ferrari, G. Montesano and G Ferreri are experts in normal and amended pedagogic psychology.
  • The spiritualistic direction tempered by the results of modern psychology is followed by Giovanni Vidari (1871, still living) and Giovanni Cal˛ (1882, still living), both authors of a Treatise on Pedagogics, and many essays.
  • Luigi Credaro (1860, still living), Professor of the University of Rome, Senator Governor of the Trentino, during the four years in which he was Minister of Education, obtained Parliamentary sanction for many fundamental laws promoting the growth of the elementary schools (taking the administration from the communes and entrusting it to a special provincial autonomous body), raising the salaries, and improving the school accomodation. He has published a volume on The Pedagogics of Herbart, and a Pedagogical Encyclopedia, with Marinazzoli. He is the editor of the Rivista pedagogica (Pedagogic Review)

What were the main tenets of positivism as it was expressed in Montessori's time? Which ones did she accept and which did she reject? How did her acceptance or objection manifest itself in word and deed?

Hayek suggests that one way of finding the underlying assumptions of a thinker is by looking for common ideas shared by thinkers they oppose (see his discussion of Comte and Hegel (Hayek, 2010, Chapter 17, starting on page 285). What are common assumptions made by Montessori and those she opposed?

Positivsm: Its Core Doctrines and Development.

[Mario called his mother a positivist in 1961 lecture, "Dr. Montessori and the Child" (Montessori, Mario, 1984)]

Although she criticized "speculative positivism", the young Montessori did not share Croce's antipathy to positivism in general. Enrico Morselli (1852-1929), who Montessori admired, was a leading exponent of positivism in Italy. So were three of Montessori's professors at the University of Rome: Cesare Lombroso (1836-1909, founder of the Italian School of Positivist Criminology), Achille de Giovanni (1838-1916), and Giuseppe Sergi (1831-1936). All three became important supporters of her work (Kramer & Freud, 1988).

Enrico Morselli published the journal Rivista di filosfia scientifica (Review of scientific philosopy) between 1881 and 1891. "Morselli attempted a synthesis of Herbert Spencer's evolutionism and [Ernst] Haeckel's monism into a 'scientific philosophy'. The list of original contributors to the Rivista is dominated, at least during the first few years, by life scientists (zoologists, anatomists, pyschologists, anthropologists, etc.), while the review section focuses more on philosophical and sociological work, mainly from the French-speaking world. Among the papers in Morselli's journal, there are original contributions by Haekel, Spencer and the leading philosopher of Italian positivism, Roberto Ardig˛."

"Increasing social tensions in Italy during the 1880s produced rifts among positivist philosophers which became difficult to bridge. Some, like sociologist and penal law expert Enrico Ferri (1856-1929), became campaigners for socialism, while others, for instance academic lawyer Raffaele Garofalo from Naples (1851-1934), gradually moved from liberal conservatism towards positions that were easily compatible with Facism."

Engels, Eve-Marie. The Reception of Charles Darwin in Europe: The Reception of British Authors in Europe. A&C Black, 2014. p. 384. Note: there's more interesting stuff in this book about Italy's response to Darwinism that might clear up some of Montessori's comments about him. Chapter 19 is devoted to Darwinism in the Kingdoms of Italy.

So what were the kinds of positivism around when Montessori wrote Pedagogical Anthropology? Did her views on positivism and post-positivism change over the years?

Comte considered science to be too early in its development to permit a positive philosophy of the "arts", such as engineering or agriculture. Montessori (and Lombroso) clearly did not. Maybe we should call them "applied positivists" or "action positivists" (compare her approach to action research) to distinguish them from speculative positivists like Comte. Is this this distinction Montessori herself was making when she called Ardig˛ a "speculative positivist"? Is this how she contrasted him with Morselli? Also need to contrast speculative positivism and action positivism with logical positivism.

It's not clear to me that positivism is (or was seen in Montessori's time) as strictly empiricist, since Comte regarded Descartes as one of the true founders of "positve philosophy". However, it does seem to be foundationalist. As a consequence, Comte seems to be in the business of system-building, which Montessori was not. Did Comte espouse the idea of the "dispassionate observer"? Did Montessori? Was her approach to "pedagogical anthropology" more positivist or post-positivist?

Comte left open the question of "how do we improve design?" by saying that we're not ready to apply positive philosophy to design. Montessori sought to apply positivism to design. Is the design process fundamentally different from scientific investigation, or is there overlap? Can scientific method inform design processes, or vice versa?

"The fundamental doctrine of a true philosophy, according to M. Comte, and the character by which he defines Positive Philosophy, is the following:--We have no knowledge of anything but Phenomena; and our knowledge of phenomena is relative, not absolute. We know not the essence, nor the real mode of production, of any fact, but only its relations to other facts in the way of succession or of similitude. These relations are constant; that is, always the same in the same circumstances. The constant resemblances which link phenomena together, and the constant sequences which unite them as antecendent and consequent, are termed their laws. The laws of phenomena are all we know respecting them. Their essential nature, and their ultimate causes, either efficient or final, are unknown and inscrutable to us. " (Mill, 1866, pp. 5-6)

[Empiricisim and Rationalism are foundationationalist epistemologies, i.e. both hold that we can only claim something as knowledge is something if we established it on a secure foundation. (Philips and Burbles, pp. 5-6). For Rationalists, represented by Descartes, the ultimate foundation is discovered through one's rational faculties. For Empiricists, knowledge is built up from the raw material of experience.]

In time, Locke's empiricism led to two key points:

  1. "our ideas originate in experience (we can trace the genealogy, as it were, of any set of complex ideas back to simple ideas that originated in sense experience), and
  2. our ideas or knowledge claims have to justified or warranted in terms of experience (observational data or measurements, for example)."

(Philips and Burbles, p. 7)

From this first point, we can trace the development of many of Montessori's ideas about child development. This point is taken up in discussion of early educational theory. Many of her early ideas about scientific pedagogy derive from the second point.

Johann Friedric Herbart (1776-1841) inspired early Italian pedagogical positivists, including Nicola Fornelli (1843-1915) and Luigi Credaro (1860-1939). As a teacher and student of philosophy in Switzerland, Bremen and G÷ttingen, he conducted observations and experiments to collect both theoretical and practical material for his work. (Herbart, 1893, p. 47).

Herbart also inspired Herbert Spencer.

Spencer originator of term "evolution". Ardig˛/Spencer evolution. Spencer and Ardig˛ can be contrasted with Comte.

Even though Spencer didn't consider himself a positivist, he is generally classified as an evolutionary positivist, as is Ardig˛.

Montessori contrasted Ardig˛ with Morselli (July 17 1852 - February 18 1929) by calling Ardig˛ (Roberto Ardig˛, January 28 1828 - September 15 1920) a "speculative positivist", but I'm not clear on what that means. Since Montessori was an admirer of Sergi, Giovanni, and Lombroso, it might be helpful to see how their views are distinguished from Ardig˛'s. For more on Ardig˛, see The Positive Psychology as a Science

Opposing himself... to Sergi's physiologism that decisively denied the peculiarity of mental acts (which for Ardigo are in any case natural phenomena, even though not merely physiological in the same way as other functions of the organism), the posivist philosopher admitted introspection as a research method, but did not consider it the only valid one. He proposed also "the indirect study of mental acts"; that is, the investigation of mental phenomena by means of observable external elements, a study justified by the inseparable conrrespondence between the physical and the mental (Buttemeyer, 1998, p. 94).

The Oxford Handbook of the History..., p. 311

Without favouring materialism, Ardigo casts his theory in the mould of evolutionary science and has obvious points of affinity with Comte, Spencer or Lewes, though he advocates a pure psychology as preferable to the type of inquiry cultivated by Sergi.

A more complete severance of psychological from philosophical inquiries is seen in the work of Giuseppe Sergi, Professor at the University of Rome. Sergi has been the leader of experimental psychology in Italy and has exerted a great influence both in the development of scientific research and in the direction of applied psychology. The psychology of crime began with Lombroso (L'uomo deliquente, 1876 : last edition 1897-1900), while De Giovanni united medicine and anthropology. Sergi thought science might be utilized to prevent as well as to understand the development of criminals; he therefore promoted the anthropological study of childhood with a view to the creation of a scientific psychological method of educating not only the intellect but the entire mental and physical organism of the child. This idea is best known through the so-called Montessori method which is its practical outcome.

A History of Psychology, p. 254

Mental Illness and the Study of the Mind

Italian psychiatrists developed in particular the idea, already elaborated in France by Claude Bernard (1813-1878) and resumed by The'odule Ribot (1839-1916) and by the French pyschologie pathologique, that there is a continuity between physiological and pathological phenomena, with no substantial difference between their basic mechanisms. They were convinced that mental illness was none other than an "altered" way in which the mind functions in particular conditions, a sort of "experiment" performed by nature itself, and they thus supposed that the knowledge of normal mental functions would allow an understanding of the pathological dysfunctions, as that the study of mental illness would, vice versa, allow us an understanding of the mind's functioning in conditions of normality. This way of considering the relation between physiology and pathology provided a decisive impetus to the promotion of psychological research with experimental method, to the point that the first laboratories of psychology were opened in psychiatric hospitals or institutes of physiology, and experimental research was conducted by physicians who had specialized training in the clinical care of patients with mental illness (Babini, 1996; Babini, Cotti, Minuz & Tagliavini, 1982; Canosa, 1979; Cimino & Sava, 2008; Ferro, 1989; Guarnieri, 1991).

(Baker, 315-316)

Knowledge is warranted in terms of experience

"...To make a claim for which no evidence (in particular, no observational evidence) is available, is (in the eyes of an empiricist) to speculate..." [tie this to idea of "speculative positivist", e.g. Spencer, Ardig˛]

(Philips and Burbles, p. 7)

"Professor Enrico Morselli, favorably known in Italy by his works, sociological, biological and anthropological... is a faithful follower of Spencer." (Fiamingo, 1895, p. 351)

In Pedagogical Anthropology, Montessori criticized Ardig˛ as a "speculative positivist" (this term was also applied to Spencer) as opposed to Morselli who used experiments to support his arguments.

However, in The Advanced Montessori Method (Spontaneous Activity), Montessori uses a quote from Ardig˛:

"'The art of tuition,' says Ardig˛, 'consists mainly of this: to know up to what point and in what manner one can maintain the interest of pupils. The most skilful teachers are those who never fatigue one fraction of the pupil's brain, but act in such a manner that his attention, turning now here, now there, may rest itself and, gaining strength, return to the principal argument of the discourse with renewed vigor.'" (p. 46)

Montessori doesn't mention Spencer, who suffered a precipitous decline in popularity in his lifetime. Wundt fell in popularity in the same way. Dewey fails to mention either Spencer or Wundt in writing about influences on his work.

Use of the terms "speculative", "speculation", "speculative positivist".

1. Knowledge is either speculative or practical.

2. Speculative knowledge can be applied to practical problems, i.e., understanding of nature can be used to predict or effect change ("From Science comes Prevision. From Prevision comes Action.")

3. We haven't developed a systematic way of doing this yet, but there are scattered examples (engineers, Monge's general theory of geometric constructions). "The time will come when out of such results, a department of Positive philosophy may arise; but it will be in a distant future." (Comte, p. 41)

4. Comte was concerned with abstract (general) science rather than concrete (particular, descriptive) science. He considered physiology abstract, botany and zoology concrete. He considered chemistry abstract, and mineralogy concrete (secondary to chemistry). Another example, theoretical and applied physics, which he called Abstract Physics and Concrete Physics, respectively.

5. The concrete sciences require prelimenary knowledge of other sciences, as do the "arts" (e.g. engineering, agriculture).

In Comte, 1858: "The field of labor is either speculation or action: and thus, we are accustomed to divide our knowledge into the theoretical and the practical. It is obvious that, in this inquiry, we have to do only with the theoretical... Speculation is our material, and not the application of it,--except where the application may happen to throw light on its speculative origin. This is probably what Bacon meant by that First Philosophy which he declared to be an extract from the whole of Science, and which has been so differently and so strangely interpreted by his metaphysical commentators." (Comte, 1858, p. 39)

"Some of the most important arts are derived from speculations pursued during long ages with a purely scientific intention. For instance, the ancient Greek geometers delighted themselves with beautiful speculations on Conic Sections; those speculations wrought, after a long series of generations, the renovation of astronomy; and out of this has the art of navigation attained a perfection which it never could have reached otherwise than through the speculative labors of Archimedes and Apollonius: so that, to use Condorcet's illustration, 'the sailor who is preserved from shipwreck by the exact observation of the longitude, owes his life to a theory conceived two thousand years before by men of genius who had in view simply geometrical speculations.'

Our business, it is clear, is with theoretical researches, letting alone their practical application altogether. Though we may conceive of a course of study which should unite the generalities of speculation and application, the time is not come for it." (Comte, 1858, p. 40)

"speculative positivist" seemed like an oxymoron to me until I read this from Mill:

"M. Comte claims no originality for [his] conception of human knowledge. He avows that it has been virtually acted on from the earliest period by all who have made any real contribution to science, and became distinctly present to the minds of speculative men from the time of Bacon, Descartes, and Galileo, whom he regards as collectively the founders of the Positive Philosophy." (Mill, 1866, p. 6)

Who referred to Spencer as a "speculative positivist?" Spencer did not consider himself one (See, for example, Spencer, 1886, p. 34). Consider this quote from Mill: "...Though the mode of thought expressed by the terms Positive and Positivism is widely spread, the words themselves are, as usual, better know through the enemies of that mode of thinking than through its friends; and more than one thinker who never called himself or his opinions by those appellations, and carefully guarded himself against being confounded with those who did, finds himself, sometimes to his displeasure, though generally by a tolerably correct instinct, classed with Positivists, and assailed as a Positivist." (Mill, 1866, p. 2)

Montessori further backs away from her initial stance in (The Discover of the Child?)

"...The theories of positivism arrive at the self-same goals as idealism, those of poetry, philosophy and art."

(Montessori, 1913, p. 476)

[Not only idealists but also positivists drew inspiration from Kant. An example of this is Johann Friedric Herbart (1776-1841). Herbart sought to establish Kant's doctrine on psychological grounds (Cushman, 1911, p. 332). He upheld the principle of non-contradiction. For him, apparent contradictions resulted from inadequate understanding, not the nature of reality. (Copleston, p. 250).]

"At the downfall of Napolean the age gave up the hope of reconstructing the world either politically or philosophically. The new spirit was scientific and positive. It tried to accept the world as it found it, and to explain it mechanically so far as it could be done. Things are not the creation of thought, and thought cannot change the reality of things. We must observe and experiment, since we cannot construct. We must restore the boundaries of Kant. Yet [Herbart was] true to the spirit that inspired German idealism, for [he] could not develop [his] philosophy of education, psychology, or art except upon a metaphysical background. Metaphysics was necessary. It was as necessary a foundation to the Germans as ethics to the Greeks and psychology to the English." (Cushman, 1911, pp. 331-332)

"Among the contemporary opponents of post-Kantian idealism... Johann Friedrich Herbart (1776-1841)" is widely known. "While in Switzerland (1797-1800) he had known Pestalozzi, and he took a great interest in and wrote on educational subjects." (Copleston, 2003, p. 249)

"[Herbart] contended... that it is impossible to deduce the theory of the world from a single principle. An all-inclusive principle may be the conclusion, but not the premise, of a philosophy. Thus his thought moved in exactly the opposite direction from the monism of the Idealists..." (Cushman, p. 332)

[Herbart also inspired the historical materialist Labriola.]

Positivism was formalized and named by French thinker Auguste Comte (1798-1857).

Montessori came of age intellectually at the end of the nineteenth century. Recent rapid progress in technology and the natural sciences were attributed to the shift from speculative thought to experimentation and observation as the primary means of discovery. This view was formalized by French thinker Auguste Comte (1798-1857) in a philosophy he called Positivism. Academics were using positivist thinking to create the human sciences, including psychology, anthropology and sociology (Comte himself coined the term "sociologie", the French word for sociology).

[Herbart's "The General Principles of the Science of Education" was published in German in 1806 as Allgemeine Pńdagogik. According to Herbart, "the plan of the Pńdagogik was, after practical use, thought over carefully in all its details many years before pen was put to paper towards the end of the year 1805." (Herbart, 1893, p. 47)]

["The pedagogical Italian positivism began with Nicola Fornelli [1843-1915] and his interest in Johann Friedrich Herbart. Luigi Credaro [1860-1939] contributed to making Herbart known, whereas Saverio de Dominicis [1846-1930] attempted at the rigid adaptation of the theory of evolution." (Garin and Pinton, 2007, p. 981). Also mentioned is positivist Pietro Siciliani (1832-1885) and anti-positivist critic ("with Benedetto Croce one of the greatest exponents of 'idealism'"), Giovanni Gentile (1875-1944). (Garin and Pinton, 2007, p. 981)

"In the second half of the nineteenth century, in connection with the general trend of physical, biological and social science, the postivist current prevailed also in Italian pedagogics. The principle representatives were: Edoardo Fusco (Trani, 1824, Naples, 1872); Pietro Sciliani (Galatina, 1835, Florence, 1885), author of... Science in Education According to the Principles of Modern Sociology; Andrea Angiulli (Castellana, 1837, Naples, 1890), author of Philosophy and the School, Pedagogics, the State and the Family, Pedagogics and Positive Philosophy; Aristide Gabelli (Belluno, 1830, Padua, 1891), compiler of the valuable Instructions... [and] author of Man and the Moral Sciences and Education in Italy; Nicola Fornelli (Bitonto, 1843, Naples, 1915), author of Public Teaching of To-day, in which he shows that teaching is the right and function of the State and must be secular but not anti-religious; Pedagogics and Classical Teaching, affirming that classical studies constitute the basis of national education; Adaptation in Education, Studies from Herbart; F. S. De Dominicis (Buonalbergo, 1845, still living), author of the Comparative Science of Education; G. A. Colozza (Frosolone, 1857,still living), author of The Place of the Play in Psychology and Pedagogy, Inhibition, Imagination in Science; Meditation, Mathematics in Educational Work, Studies on Rousseau and Education and the Sentiment of Honour, in which he develops some principles of Locke and modern English pedagogy. The leader of the school of modern pedagogic positivism is Robert Ardig˛ (Casteldidone, 1828, Mantua, 1920). In addition to may philosophical works he wrote The Science of Education, 1893. Among those who follow the lines laid down by him are: Giovanni Marchesini (1868, still living), author of the Positive Doctrine of Ideality, Systematic Course of Pedagogics, Moral Education; Giuseppe Tarozzi (1866, still living), Ludovico Limentani and others.

Cesare Collucci, Sante Desanctis, G. C. Ferrari, G. Montesano and G Ferreri are experts in normal and amended pedagogic psychology. The spiritualistic direction tempered by the results of modern psychology is followed by Giovanni Vidari (1871, still living) and Giovanni Cal˛ (1882, still living), both authors of a Treatise on Pedagogics, and many essays. Luigi Credaro (1860, still living), Professor of the University of Rome, Senator Governor of the Trentino, during the four years in which he was Minister of Education, obtained Parliamentary sanction for many fundamental laws promoting the growth of the elementary schools (taking the administration from the communes and entrusting it to a special provincial autonomous body), raising the salaries, and improving the school accomodation. He has published a volume on The Pedagogics of Herbart, and a Pedagogical Encyclopedia, with Marinazzoli. He is the editor of the Rivista pedagogica (Pedagogic Review)."

(Watson, 1921, p. 898)

[Major positivists influencing Italian thought were Spencer and Ardig˛. Contrast with earlier Comte, later Logical Positivists.]

[see Herbert Spencer: Obstacles to Objectivity]

[Was Montessori a positivist? If so, did she change her mind about positivism? If so, when? Spencer said he wasn't a positivist. Marx said he wasn't a Marxist. Hard to catergorize thinkers this way. Mario said she was a positivist, but she clearly changed her stance with regard to the role of speculation and attempts to model scientific pedagogy after medicine.]

"...The 'Rivista di filosofia scientifica' [from 1881 to 1891] under the editorship of the psychiatrist Enrico Morselli... remained predominantly positivistic, though often it gave manifestations of naturalism and materialism. An example of this was Giuseppe Sergi... A pure materialist was Cesare Lombroso who contributed to the diffusion of the ideas of Jacob Moleschott..." (Garin and Pinton, 2007, p. 990).

"With Darwinism in its applied or 'social' form, we come to the central point of intellectual conflict. Some of Darwin's earliest supporters had been followers of August Comte, and the second of the high priests of positivism, Herbert Spencer, had early rallied to Darwinism, sensing its possibilities as support for his own position." (Hughes, 1977, p. 36)

Montessori on materialism and mechanism:

When St. Francis of Assisi saw his Lord in a vision, and received from the Divine lips the command—"Francis, rebuild my Church!"—he believed that the Master spoke of the little church within which he knelt at that moment. And he immediately set about the task, carrying upon his shoulders the stones with which he meant to rebuild the fallen walls... Like St. Francis, we have believed that by carrying the hard and barren stones of the experimental laboratory to the old and crumbling walls of the school, we might rebuild it. We have looked upon the aids offered by the materialistic and mechanical sciences with the same hopefulness with which St. Francis looked upon the squares of granite, which he must carry upon his shoulders. (Montessori, 1912, pp. 6-7)

[How does this relate to the discussion on page 17 of the "national desk?"]

"To describe the dominant tendency in late nineteenth-century thought as materialism was obviously a crude simplification. Few serious thinkers of any period have been true materialists... 'Mechanism,' on the other hand, was a rather more accurate characterization: it suggested the prestige of explanations drawn from the Newtonian physical universe and in particular from the recently developed field of electricity. Similarly the term 'naturalism' evoked the biological explanations that had come increasingly into vogue as the nineteenth century advanced. This had been notably the case since the triumph of Darwinism in the 1860's."

"With Darwinism in its applied or 'social' form, we come to the central point of intellectual conflict. Some of Darwin's earliest supporters had been followers of August Comte, and the second of the high priests of positivism, Herbert Spencer, had early rallied to Darwinism, sensing its possibilities as support for his own position." (Hughes, 1977, p. 36)

[Like Spencer, Sergi was an evolutionist (Foschi, 2008, p. 240)]

"It was my former teacher, Giuseppe Sergi, who, as early as 1886, defended with the ardor of a prophet the new scientific principle of studying the pupils in our schools by methods prescribed by anthropology." (Montessori, 1896, p. 14)]

[It might help to start by trying to categorize Montessori's work. Positivist? Spencer didn't consider himself a positivist as defined by Comte. Montessori considered Spencer a positivist but rejected work such as his and Ardig˛'s. Yet, in a 1961 lecture, Mario said that his mother was a positivist.]

During this period, a distinction was made between "speculative positivists" such as Spencer and Ardig˛--philosophers who did not conduct experiments or collect empirical data[refs?]--and positivists such as Morselli [who else?] who did.

According to Italian philosopher and historian Benedetto Croce, in the 1890's and early 1900's, "hardly anyone dared to admit he was engaged in philosophical investigations and thought; everyone boasted instead of studying science and working as a scientist." (Croce 1963, cited in Nye 1976, pp. 336-337). Montessori was no exception:

"He who experiments must, while doing so, divest himself of every preconception. It is clear then that if we wish to make use of a method of experimental psychology, the first thing necessary is to renounce all former creeds and to proceed by means of the method in the search for truth." (Montesori, 1912, p. 29).

However, in this same text, Montessori goes on to say that her interest in developing scientific pedagogy led her to register as a student of philosophy at the University of Rome in order "to undertake the study of normal pedagogy and of the principles upon which it is based." (Montessori, 1912, p. 33). As we will see, Montessori made use of many of the principles she studied in developing her own learning environments.

How did Montessori reconcile the ideas of experiments free of all preconceptions, with her decision to devote herself to studying the educational theories of the past? Montessori's approach becomes clearer when we consider the following passage from Pedagogical Anthropology:

"While the experimental sciences, by collecting and recording separate phenomena, were gradually preparing, throughout the nineteenth century, a great mass of analytical material, chosen blindly and without form, they apparently engendered a new trend of thought positively hostile to philosophy: the odium antiphilosophicum, as Morselli calls it. And conversely, the speculative positivism of Ardig˛ remained throughout its development a stranger to the immediate sources of experimental research, and adhered strictly to the field of pure philosophy. It remained for Morselli to perceive that the scientific material prepared by experimental science was in reality philosophical material, for which it was only necessary to prepare instruments and means in order to systematize it and lead it into the proper channels for the construction of a scientific philosophy."

"Throughout the whole period of his intellectual activity, Morselli sought to unite experimental science and philosophy, by taking his content from the former and his form from the latter." (Montessori, 1913, p. 21).

In Spontaneous Activity, Montessori quotes Ardig˛ to support her view: "'The art of tuition,' says Ardig˛, 'consists mainly of this: to know up to what point and in what manner one can maintain the interest of pupils. The most skilful teachers are those who never fatigue one fraction of the pupil's brain, but act in such a manner that his attention, turning now here, now there, may rest itself and, gaining strength, return to the principal argument of the discourse with renewed vigor.'" (Montessori, 1917, p. 46).

[Spencer and Ardig˛ were philosophers who used examples and analogies from science to put forward their ideas. Morselli, Lombroso, Giovanni and Sergi were scientists.]

[Spencer and Ardig˛ both had differences with Comte. Spencer did not believe in Comte's hierarchy of the sciences (the idea that there is a hierarchy starting with math, then physics, chemistry, biology, and sociology), or Comte's three phases of intellectual progress (theological, metaphysical, positive). Unlike Comte, Ardig˛ believed thought more than matter. Ardig˛ took the idea of evolutionary development from Spencer. (Bellamy, 1987, p. 9)]

"The use of the term 'positive' had the function of indicating that the author had in mind not the loose interpretation of science whereby any systematic accumulation of knowledge can be described as a scientific activity, but the more specialized interpretation whereby a subject can only be termed scientific if it is based upon methods similar to those of the natural sciences." (Birch, 2001, p. 225)

"The spirit of positivism is essentially the spirit of the Enlightment, and can be summarized as rational, secular, scientific, optimistic, progressive, liberal and associated with the belief in the inevitability of progress that developed in the eighteenth century and characterized much European thought until it was shattered by the events of 1914." (Birch, 2001, p. 225)

[Interesting contrast between the anti-Catholic philosopher Ardig˛ and Catholic scientist Montessori]

According to Montessori then, scientific pedagogy ought to be developed through two related and necessary activities: the systematic collection of data through objective, unbiased experiments and observations, and the organization of experiments and observations through theoretical work.

Since there were no Morsellis in the history of educational study, Montessori could not find guidance on experimental methods and educational philosophy from the same source. In late nineteenth century Italy, anthropology (as opposed to psychology in Great Britain and the United States).

For her theoretical framework, the only resource available was educational theory based on speculation or anecdotal evidence. One consequence of this is that Montessori's theoretical framework closely resembles the educational principles of theoreticians such as Herbert Spencer, a thinker who was considered by some as the quintessential speculative positivist (Small, 1897).

"[In the early 1890s], the most famous philosopher followed in Italy was Spencer... and with him many other positivists and evolutionists, both foreigners and fellow citizens." (Croce, Primi saggi, pp. 8-9).

"Professor Enrico Morselli, favorably known in Italy by his works, sociological, biological and anthropological... is a faithful follower of Spencer." (Fiamingo, 1895, p. 351)

Like Roberto Ardig˛ (1828-1920), Spencer conducted no scientific research himself. Instead, he drew on the work of earlier educational theorists, including Pestalozzi, Rousseau (even though he refused to read Emile), Locke, Hume and others as far back as Aristotle.

"By following the path of observation, we reach a goal analogous to that sought along the path of intuition." (Montessori, 1913, p. 476).

Statistics

Montessori mentions the field of statistics someplace (Pedagogical Anthropology?)

Look at important developments in the field of statistics around Montessori's time. One of these is Francis Galton's development of regression analysis. There's an interesting discussion of this in Super Crunchers by Ian Ayers, on pages 23-24.

Foundationalism

Phillips gives a number of arguments against foundationalism, but I have trouble with one of them. He says, "the ancient mathematicisan Euclid formalized geometry by setting it out as a series of deductions (proofs) starting from a few premises (assumptions or postulates) that he took to be self-evident or themselves needing no proof." (Phillips and Burbules, pp. 14-15). He then brings up the fact that non-Euclidean geometries have been developed using different premises. But it's not clear to me that this shows that foundationalism is wrong. Both Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometries still seem foundationalist to me in that they're built up from premises, even if they're built up from different premises. Maybe his argument is that premises are OK, but there's not one particular set of premises that are truly "self-evident" or "rock-bottom"?

Misconceptions about Postivism

Phillips and Burbules list four common misconceptions about positivism:

  1. "...Just because a point is made or a distinction is drawn by a positivist, it does not follow that this is a positivist point!"
  2. "...It is not the case that positivists must always advocate the use of the experimental method (as opposed to observational case studies, for example), and conversely, it is not the case that anyone who advocates conducting experiments is thereby a positivist."
  3. "...There is nothing... that identifies positivists with the use of quantitative data and statistics. And, as before, the converse is true--nonpositivists are free to use quantitative data and statistical analyses if their research problems call for these methods."
  4. "Positivists are often charged with being realists (another general term of abuse) in that they are said to believe in an 'ultimate reality'... For most postivists, the only thing that matters is... our sense experience, and they accept that it is meaningless to make independent claims about the 'reality' to which these experiences 'refer' or 'correspond.' (Technically, most positivists are more accurately described as adherents of phenomenalism or sensationalism rather than realism.)"

(Phillips & Burbules, 2000, pp. 13-14)

Science and Revolution

"...The existing disorder is abundantly accounted for by the existence, all at once, of three incompatible philosophies,--the theological, the metaphysical, and the positive. Any one of these might alone secure some sort of social order; but while the three coexist, it is impossible for us to understand one another upon any essential point whatever. If this is true, we have only to ascertain which of the philosophies must, in the nature of things, prevail; and, this ascertained, every man, whatever may have been his former views, cannot but concur in its triumph. The problem once recognized cannot remain long unsolved; for all considerations whatever point to the positive philosophy as the one destined to prevail. It alone has been advancing during a course of centuries, through which the others have been declining. The fact is incontestable. Some may deplore it, but none can destroy it, nor therefore neglect it but under penalty of being betrayed by illusory speculations. This general revolution of the human mind is nearly accomplished. We have only to complete the positive philosophy by bringing social phenomena within its comprehension, and afterwards consolidating the whole into one body of homogeneous doctrine. The marked preference that almost all minds, from the highest to the commonest, accord to positive knowledge over vague and mystical conceptions is a pledge of what the reception of this philosophy will be when it has acquired the only quality that it now wants--a character of due generality. When it has become complete, its supremacy will take place spontaneously, and will re-establish order throughout society. There is, at present, no conflict but between the theological and the metaphhysical philosophies. They are contending for the task of reorganizing society; but it is a work too mighty for either of them. The positive philosophy has hitheroto intervened only to examine both, and both are abundantly discredited by the process. It is time now to be doing something more effective, without wasting our forces in needless controversy. It is time to complete the vast intellectual operation begun by Bacon, Descartes, and Galileo, by constructing the system of general ideas that must henceforth prevail among the human race. This is the way to put an end to the revolutionary crisis that is tormenting the civilized nations of the the world. " (Comte, 1858, pp. 36-37)

Hayek and Scientism

"...in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, those who sought to examine economic and social phenomena scientifically usually followed methods that were dictated by the material under study. As the nineteenth century progressed, however, the term 'science' came more and more to be associated with the successes of the physical and biological sciences, with the rigour of their methods and the certainty of their results. A change gradually took place in the social sciences, as the 'ambition to imitate Science in its methods rather than its spirit' became a dominant theme. Hayek refers to this 'slavish imitation of the method and language of Science' as scientism, or as the scientific prejudice, an attitude that he felt was profoundly unscientific. Scientism involves a prejudice because, even before considering the nature of a subject area, it presumes to know the best way to study it." (Hayek, Introduction, Major Themes of the "Scientism" Essay)

Montessori and Dewey

Montessori was a positivist, Dewey a pragmatist. Kilpatrick was highly critical of Montessori. Hayek suggests looking for common ground between opponents to uncover underlying assumptions. Montessori and Dewey both believed:

  • "that educational research had to be focused upon experimentation within a naturalistic setting such as the Laboratory School" (Lagemann, 1989, p. 196) or the Casa dei Bambini
  • "That educational research should serve as a testing ground and link between scientific and social innovation" (Lagemann, 1989, pp. 197-198)

Another central concern of Dewey's was "finding ways to increase educational efficiency via the creation of a more cohesive, interrelated social system, in which teaching and learning would go on within and across a variety of institutions, and not be considered as narrowly defined, exclusive school" (Lagemann, 1989, pp. 199-200) functions"

However the ideas of observation and experimentation are currently applied in Montessori classrooms, Montessori herself treated the classroom as the setting for her research.

Add sources on committments of Montessori and Dewey to social reform.